Catch-22 is often cited as one of the great books about the futility and inherent paradoxes of war. I think this is easily its equal, but is often ove...moreCatch-22 is often cited as one of the great books about the futility and inherent paradoxes of war. I think this is easily its equal, but is often overlooked because it is dismissed as "just" science fiction.
By using the tropes of SF, Haldeman vividly illustrates not only the psychological effects on the combatants, but also the desperate disassociation wrought between the "soldiers" and the rest of society - his reference point was the Vietnam veterans, but it could apply anywhere and anywhen. There are some moments of genuine horror too, especially when you start to understand what the narrator is telling you.
A serious contender for my top ten books of all time.(less)
There's no contest for me - this is, hands down, my favourite DWJ. It's not as intricate as Hexwood, nor perhaps as subtle as Fire and Hemlock, but fo...moreThere's no contest for me - this is, hands down, my favourite DWJ. It's not as intricate as Hexwood, nor perhaps as subtle as Fire and Hemlock, but for mastery of form and style, this is nigh-on perfect.
A wonderful study of family dynamics, the way the two families reflect each other in unexpected ways never gets dull, and the farcical elements are perfectly played. Even as you realise what is really going on, she manages to pull surprise after surprise from the narrative - and for once the finalé doesn't feel rushed.
This is the book I use to introduce people to DWJ. A classic.(less)
"Below average" Diana Wynne Jones is still better than almost everyone else. And this is, sadly, below average. The story is as clever as usual, but J...more"Below average" Diana Wynne Jones is still better than almost everyone else. And this is, sadly, below average. The story is as clever as usual, but Jamie simply isn't interesting enough to support it (the tragedy of his life is far too understated, even when his own point-of-view filter is taken into account), and the resolution is as rushed as ever.
But her mastery of story is still evident - a bunch of well-worn clichés somehow feel new and alive again merely by their collision, and the backstory works ingeniously. Don't expect a masterpiece and you won't be disappointed.(less)
In the all-too-crowded "Teen Fantasy" section of the market, this is a stand-out entry, possibly because it was written before the recent revival of t...moreIn the all-too-crowded "Teen Fantasy" section of the market, this is a stand-out entry, possibly because it was written before the recent revival of the genre. The central premise is pretty traditional (lonely and bullied teen discovers superpowers and/or alternate world) but there is a real feeling of a carefully worked out backstory here even if later books in the series have to do a bit of retcon work on it.
But all the basic elements are well-handled - that magic should have a physical cost, that "evil" is always alone whilst "good" is many, that keeping a secret from your family is hard and so on. But Duane also brings in some unique ideas: the Manual is a particularly clever one, and the underlying foundation of the "Choice" that drives all the stories in myriad ways is nicely introduced.
Oh, and the fact that our heroes have clearly Hispanic names isn't commented upon at all; it's just taken for granted. Now that's subtle.(less)
This is a historical curiosity as well as a piece of mind-blowing hard SF. I first read it soon after it was originally published, and although I coul...moreThis is a historical curiosity as well as a piece of mind-blowing hard SF. I first read it soon after it was originally published, and although I could still clearly remember the jaw-dropping parts, I had clearly forgotten most of the actual plot.
The premise is exactly the same as that of Arthur C.Clarke's Rendezvous with Rama - an alien spacecraft enters the solar system and we follow the stories of those sent up to explore it. But, of course, that's about where the similarities end. In this case, the "Stone" has a very different background and reason for existing, and it's a doozy, and the theoretical physics employed in the explanations are almost graspable (to this layperson, at least.)
But the human tension is the story is driven by something that now feels rather quaint. Originally published at the height of the "second" Cold War - the mid 80s when Star Wars (the space laser defence system, not the movie!) was a theoretical possibility and tensions between East and West were very real, Eon offers us a vision of a world in which the Berlin Wall never fell, but where the arrival of the "Stone" generates a whole new level of paranoia and overreaction, leading to disaster.
To his credit, Bear does create a very good "alternate history" of the twenty years or so after the original publication, but we can read it now and perhaps laugh rather than be scared by the vision he offers.
Once the action has shifted to the Stone proper, I think the book falls down by using the old stand-by of simply taking two parallel storylines and switching between them, which I found somewhat annoying rather than tension building. And the political plot which drives the second half is extremely difficult to follow, although some of the neat paradoxes inherent in the main idea are cleverly introduced and explained (indeed, he's obviously so keen on one of them he explains it twice!)
Overall, I enjoyed my revisit, but that's about all I can say really.(less)
I have a very soft spot for the computer game on which this novel was based. It was over-ambitious, flawed and frustrating but it did some things that...moreI have a very soft spot for the computer game on which this novel was based. It was over-ambitious, flawed and frustrating but it did some things that even all these years later have yet to be equalled in terms of conversational AI.
And I also have a soft spot for this novelisation because at the time of the game they posted the entire text of the novel on the official website. But they did it by sorting all the words into alphabetical order first. It was a typical Adams idea - funny and off-beat but which also made you think, just a little.(less)
Whereas I argued that you could read Timewyrm: Revelation without knowing anything about Doctor Who, and you'd be confused but not baffled, Time's Cr...moreWhereas I argued that you could read Timewyrm: Revelation without knowing anything about Doctor Who, and you'd be confused but not baffled, Time's Crucible is close to being what is now known as "fanwank". It's not just a major attempt to define whole aspects of the Who mythos, drawing on multiple trivial details from the series, it also tries to be an intricate time-travel story operating in multiple time-periods at once.
And it has to be judged a failure. Even though I've given it four stars! But then I'm a fan, and I love so many of the ideas found in here, but the execution is far, far more confusing than it should be.
Marc Platt wrote Ghostlight, which is now one of the most respected old Who stories, in which he helped to create what became the NA Seventh Doctor - a devious manipulator who never even starts a game he can't win, even if that involves cheating. But at the time it was received with polite bafflement, as time pressures meant that a complex plot became semi-incoherent through editing.
Time's Crucible is semi-incoherent without needing that editing. Like Ghostlight, it does in fact make perfect sense if you are able to hold all the minor details in your head and are willing to take the effort to keep track of where the story is and how the different parts relate to one another. But that's a very difficult job, and generally not something that you (as a reader) expect to do with what is "only" a book, and definitely not a great classic.
So it's flawed. And the whole underpinning story on Gallifrey is really only of any interest to Doctor Who fans; it doesn't really make much difference to the main plot (which would have worked satisfactorily without it), and some aspects of it (notably "The Other") would confuse even fans who weren't intimately acquainted with what didn't actually happen on-screen.
But I still admire the attempt and there is much to enjoy here: the imagery of the City is remarkably vivid, and most of the characters are well-drawn. As long as you go in knowing that you will have to work whilst reading, this is perfectly fine. But of course that's not what most people want from their "casual" reading...
Next up: Cat's Cradle: Warhead, in which the last script editor of Doctor Who on tv, and architect of much of what Platt writes about here, has his take on the series.(less)
It feels slightly mean to only give this three stars, but fundamentally the problem is that it simply doesn't feel like a Doctor Who story - it's more...moreIt feels slightly mean to only give this three stars, but fundamentally the problem is that it simply doesn't feel like a Doctor Who story - it's more like the author took a story out of his drawer and stuck the Doctor and Ace into it.
But much of the actual story - the alternate world of Tir Na Nog, the interface between there and our own world, the vivid characters and the descriptive work - is excellent.
The major plot twist towards the end is rather clichéd, but to be fair it isn't massively predictable even though all the clues are given to you fairly. And I can just about forgive him the outrageously plagiarised "American Werewolf in London" subplot simply because it's so blatant it's funny.
Anyway, it's not a bad book, but I think that it fails as a Who story. Marks for effort.
Next up is the debut from someone who went on to write for the new series. Here comes Professor Nightshade...(less)
Andrew Cartmel was the last script editor of "old" Doctor Who (the version of the show that ran from 1963 - 1989.) During his time in charge, the show...moreAndrew Cartmel was the last script editor of "old" Doctor Who (the version of the show that ran from 1963 - 1989.) During his time in charge, the show began to introduce elements that would today be called "story arc", although this was still a pretty new concept in SF television. I note this because it is an important part of understanding why I felt Warhead was less successful than Time's Crucible in defining the Seventh Doctor as he would mostly appear in the NAs.
Cartmel had posited that the Doctor was "more than just a Time Lord", albeit without quite explaining what this meant; it was something that he intended to explore in the series except that it was cancelled.
And it becomes clear in Warhead that he wasn't entirely sure himself. He gives us an excellent portrait of the manipulative Doctor who appears to gamble whilst always stacking the deck, but he doesn't quite deliver on what he promises - although he does set in motion some things that are clearly intended to be paid off in future books, which feels good.
However, he's not a particularly great writer - although after two highly "literary" entries in the NA series, it's refreshing to have a more straight-forward narrative in a much more comprehensible setting (one that still feels prescient, even today.)
The story isn't anything like as involving as it should be, and I think that Ace is particularly badly treated with some inconsistent characterisation that makes her look stupid at times.
As with the Xanth books, this series shows Anthony's endlessly creative imagination in full flow. Here he pulls off a masterly cross-over between the...moreAs with the Xanth books, this series shows Anthony's endlessly creative imagination in full flow. Here he pulls off a masterly cross-over between the fantasy and science fiction genres, keeping both clearly discrete and yet interacting in a truly boggling way.
It's only his complete inability to write convincing characters that stops this from being a great book. But alas, even Stile is little more than a cipher to enable the plot to function, and as for Sheen and Neysa... well, I don't think that the excuses Anthony actually incorporates into the book justify the way he handles them.
This is, however, a terrific start to one of my favourite series - hmmm, must go and reread it soon.(less)